3D Hubs Offers Markforged Fiber-Reinforced 3D Printing Services
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on May 23, 2016 |

Markforged entered the 3D printing space with a huge impact at SOLIDWORKS World in 2014 when it unveiled the first desktop 3D printing technology capable of producing composite objects. The company has since been developing its continuous carbon fiber 3D printer further, but, so far, access the technology has been mostly limited to purchasing a Mark One or its most recent upgrade, the Mark Two. There are service providers that offer 3D printing with the Markforged platform, but, now, 3D Hubs has begun to offer customers the ability to 3D print with Markforged's continuous filament fabrication (CFF) platform through their distributed prototyping and manufacturing network.

Nylon brake lever prototypes 3D printed on the Markforged platform with different types of fiber reinforcement. From left to right: nylon without reinforcement, fiberglass-reinforced nylon, Kevlar-reinforced nylon, carbon fiber-reinforced nylon and a print made only from carbon fiber. (Image courtesy of 3D Hubs.)
Nylon brake lever prototypes 3D printed on the Markforged platform with different types of fiber reinforcement. From left to right: nylon without reinforcement, fiberglass-reinforced nylon, Kevlar-reinforced nylon, carbon fiber-reinforced nylon and a carbon fiber-reinforced nylon print dyed black. (Image courtesy of 3D Hubs.)

What makes CFF so unique is that it more closely resembles the carbon fiber layup process that occurs in mainstream manufacturing. Unlike 3D printing filaments reinforced with chopped carbon, the CFF lays continuous, unbroken strands of carbon fiber within nylon objects during the 3D printing process. This results in anywhere from five to 10 times the strength of a nonreinforced part, compared to possibly twice the strength of a chopped fiber reinforced object.

Less suited for small, intricate parts, the technology lends itself to the 3D printing of engineering components, such as fixtures, tools and jigs. The process opens up the ability not only to bring carbon fiber reinforcement to desktop 3D printing, but also to create fiberglass and Kevlar composite parts, as well, with Markforged selling all three materials with their platform.

A functional ball joint 3D printed with carbon reinforcement. (Image courtesy of 3D Hubs.)
A functional ball joint 3D printed with carbon reinforcement. (Image courtesy of 3D Hubs.)

With the company's carbon fiber infill material, in particular, CFF is capable of producing parts with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum that are up to 27 times stiffer and 24 times stronger than acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Try to snap a carbon fiber–reinforced nylon part in your hands and you'll hurt yourself before damaging the part. In fact, Filemon Schoffer, head of community at 3D Hubs, explained in an interview that his office did try to break such a part, implementing fists and hammers.

Today, Markforged’s CFF platform is ready for orders on 3D Hubs' growing network of over 30,000 3D printing service providers. This means that, from 17 hubs across Europe, North America and Australia, you can actually order nylon parts reinforced with carbon fiber, fiberglass and Kevlar and try to snap them yourself. The Markforged 3D printing services are made available through established hubs on the network who have a familiarity with the CFF platform and, Schoffer said, are some of the leading providers on their site.

A functional fixture reinforced with Kevlar fiber. (Image courtesy of 3D Hubs.)
A functional fixture reinforced with Kevlar fiber. (Image courtesy of 3D Hubs.)

3D Hubs has experienced tremendous growth since its 2014 inception. Not just in terms of its global users, but in terms of offerings as well. At the end of last year, the company expanded from small users of desktop machines (as well as a large number of ColorJet Printing users) to include industrial technologies with their 3D Hubs HD program. Beginning with selective laser sintering in 2015 and adding Stratasys' PolyJet in 2016, the company turned what was an extensive resource for local, low-cost 3D printing into a resource for professional-grade production. Now, the addition of the CFF platform from Markforged to the 3D Hubs network is an interesting combination of desktop 3D printing and industrial technology.

As Schoffer explained, "We did a lot of research with our community and the MarkForged platform came out extremely well, with the hubs that own them saying that it is a very good machine. For a large service bureau to offer something like this would be very difficult. They typically run batch production on large machines, while the technology from Markforged requires having experts manage these small desktop machines. It just wouldn't make sense for them, but it’s ideal for 3D Hubs."

Design guidelines for using CFF technology can be found here. In order to find a local supplier, potential users can head to the 3D Hubs site, select "Fiber-Reinforced Nylon" as their material of choice and find the hub closest to them.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that other service providers outside of 3D Hubs also offer 3D printing services on the Markforged platform.

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